4 May 2020: R&RA Trustee, Des Kelly OBE, on the future of social care:
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” There has never been a better time to apply the wisdom of this proverb to the social care sector. Care homes (across the world) have been pushed centre stage in the news quite a lot recently as a result of Covid-19 which has made it an especially worrying time for relatives of those living in care homes who have been unable to visit regularly. We know from the many calls to our helpline that families and friends are concerned for the safety of their loved ones.
The media coverage of care homes is a mixed blessing to say the least. It’s true that the dedication shown by many care workers and the vital importance of the work they do to support people living in care homes appears to be more readily acknowledged alongside the appreciation rightly being shown to those working in the NHS. Workers in care settings have finally being recognised as ‘keyworkers’ – essential to society – during the Covid-19 crisis. They provide a vital service and deserve our appreciation. Stories in the press and social media of care staff leaving their families and moving into care homes to support people has highlighted the outstanding commitment by some. The media have even championed the need for more and quicker testing for all care settings and to ensure that adequate personal protective equipment is available for the benefit of both residents and staff. The relationship and the role of care homes in protecting the NHS has also been positively highlighted. However, as well as the encouraging commentary countering the perception of care work as low skilled (and therefore low paid), there has been little on what needs to be done to ensure lasting change.
This brings me to the proverb about planting trees and the need for action being now! There will undoubtedly be a need for a major inquiry into the handling of the pandemic at some point so that we can learn the lessons for any future virus outbreaks. We will clearly need to be better prepared in the future. This coincides with a commitment already made by the Government to ‘sort out social care funding once and for all’. So, now is absolutely the best time for care sector organisations including professional associations, representative bodies, and charities alongside residents, carers and families to start the preparation for review and reform. The Covid-19 crisis has shone a light on the needs and rights of people receiving care and support as well as care workers and how exposed they have been. The Relatives & Residents Association fully intends to play its part in planning for the future.
There has been a plethora of reports and recommendations over recent years and there may be some value in revisiting these to short-cut the discussions we will need to have on such aspects as future funding, the structure and ownership of services, ensuring effective registration and regulation, inspection and standards, improved career pathways, mandatory training and qualifications, pay and rewards and so on. Now is the time to begin the process of building consensus amongst care sector organisations to determine the key issues that will need to be resolved. Recognising the vital contribution of frontline care workers (and their managers) means acknowledging the professional nature of what they do. That means ensuring there are proper career structures in place supported by mandatory training requirements, on-going learning and development opportunities and appropriate qualifications. It means truly valuing the contribution of care workers and the way they are treated especially in what they are paid.